Why the Perseid Meteor Shower Blazes Through the Sky Every Summer

Why the Perseid Meteor Shower Blazes Through the Sky Every Summer

METEORS come from the small particles, around the size of a grain of sand, left behind by comets (and some asteroids) as they orbit the sun. If stargazers miss the show on Saturday, they also can look for it again beginning at about 11 p.m. on Sunday night. The number of Perseids zipping across the sky should increase steadily through the night, peaking just before sunrise.

The Perseids appear to emanate from between the constellations Perseus and Cassiopeia, but to catch them there's really no need to worry about which direction you're looking.

The phenomenon is caused by debris from the tail of the Swift-Tuttle comet entering the Earth's atmosphere and burning up, appearing as bright streaks of light crossing the sky.

Comet Swift-Tuttle - photographed here on April 4, 1892 (top) and April 6, 1892 (bottom) - whizzes through our solar system every 133 years, leaving a trail of dust and debris behind it.

"It will be a crescent, which means it will set before the Perseid show gets underway after midnight", NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke told Space.com. The best time to see the meteor shower's peak locally is late Sunday night / very early Monday morning.

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Though the Perseids can be spotted between July 17 and August 24, the best views will be from Sunday at 4 p.m.to Monday at 4 a.m. EST, when the night is almost moonless.

Perhaps you might remember an awesome meteor show back in the early 1990s? Best of all, constellations and the Milky Way should be highly visible due to a New Moon on August 11, meaning there will not be as much light to drown out the stars. For these extra sparkly Perseid years, you can thank one of our obtrusive cosmic neighbors: Jupiter.

While stars and star clusters are Twarog's specialty, he said he appreciates how the meteor showers light up the summer sky and anyone can appreciate the celestial wonder.

This year you'll be able to see up to 60-80 meteors per hour - for about one meteor per minute - up from last year's rate of 40-50 (in case anyone is counting).

"If you have seen a few of them you have seen them all", he said. For the best viewing, make sure you get away from city lights.

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